4

I was watching an episode of the Hansen vs predator series.

In the show, there is a random guy called Chris Hansen who goes online and pretends to be a 13-year-old girl. When people chat with him, he tries to steer the discussion towards a sexual level, such as saying "I'm just coming out of the shower", etc. He then lures them into his house, where there is a real-life decoy, a 19-year-old girl. After some talking, the decoy goes away and Chris Hansen appears. He then starts to question them and "lets them go" out of the garage, where the police then arrest them. They are charged with "criminal attempt to commit risk of injury to a minor".

My understanding is that Chris Hansen is a totally random guy who does not work for the government, meaning he is not an undercover police agent. The question is, why is Chris Hansen not charged with criminal impersonation? Chris Hansen operates in Fairfield, Connecticut.

In Connecticut criminal impersonation is defined as (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-130 (2021)):

(a) A person is guilty of criminal impersonation when such person: (1) Impersonates another and does an act in such assumed character with intent to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud another;

It appears to me that he is impersonating another person, a 13-year old little girl, and acting in this assumed character with the intent to obtain a benefit, namely the money from the subscribers of his show, and to injure another, namely making them go to jail.

(5) with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, uses an electronic device to impersonate another and such act results in personal injury or financial loss to another or the initiation of judicial proceedings against another.

It looks to me he is impersonating another (a little girl of 13 years old), with intent to deceive him (have him think he is a 13-years old girl while he actually isn't), and such act results in the initiation of judicial proceedings against another (the charges against his victims).

Relevantly:

(b) The provisions of subdivision (5) of subsection (a) of this section shall not apply to a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties.

Seems not to apply since Chris Hansen is not a law enforcement officer.

Note: This is not a duplicate of Can questions of private investigator without Miranda warning be used in trial?. The facts of the case are the same, but the legal question being raised here (is Hansen committing a crime?) is very different to that question (is Hansen gathering useable evidence).

1
  • I am pretty sure "make them go to jail" won't count as "injuring another". (Specifically it isn't Chris Hansen sending them jail, it is the court, and it is happening as a result of the perpetrator's actions.) "with intent to obtain a benefit" is a more interesting point though. Jan 24, 2023 at 8:49

2 Answers 2

2

Chris Hansen isn't impersonating an actual person. There's a big difference between exploiting a relationship someone has established with a person by pretending to be that person, versus lying about characteristics one has. According to your logic, at what point would Chris Hansen by "impersonating" someone? Chris Hansen is 63 years old. If he were to claim to be a 62 year old man, would that be "impersonation"?

3
  • (1) I don't know, it might well be. Do you have case law that says that you need to impersonate a real person, not a made-up one? Because the statue only says "impersonate another" (2) Regarding your example, Chris Hansen is 63 years old, and he claims to be 62 years old in order to obtain a discount at the nightclub reserved for young people below 63 years old, he looks to me he is impersonating another and acting in such character in order to obtain a benefit. Jun 26, 2023 at 5:29
  • So, if I pretend to be a skilled hedge fund manager living in Maysville (Colorado), and I persuade you to give me your money so I can invest them and we'll split the profits, that's not a crime because there is no hedge fund manager in Maysville, so the person I'm impersonating doesn't exist? Jun 26, 2023 at 5:41
  • @robertspierre It's in the definition of "impersonating" -- it has to be a particular real person that you're pretending to be. Pretending to be a hedge fund manager when you're not and taking someone's money would be different crimes. Jun 26, 2023 at 15:32
1

First Chris Hansen is likely not, in and of himself, posing as a 13 year old girl. These stings involve some dedicated volunteers posing as under aged minors on online chat forums accessible to the public. They are not looking for the suspects specifically and generally, do not engage them in the initial communication they explain it is the predator that initiates contact usually, and the person behind the keyboard will quickly tell them they are underaged and make numerous reminders. At this point, they are free to disengage or have a legal conversation with someone they know to be a minor.

It is a crime to have a sexually charged conversation with a minor in the United States (typically the age will change between states of when the cut off point is and range between 16-18).

It is important to note, that there is no benefit to the person portraying the minor to this kind of behavior NOR is the person who committed a crime injured by the person using the account as they ought to know this behavior is illegal and they were not prompted by the chat conversation at this point. The example provided ("I'm just coming out of the shower") is not sexual in and of its self and just a statement of fact. If it is sexual, most adults would steer the conversation away from sexualizing a 13 year old in the shower. The full transcripts make it clear that the sexual nature of the conversation originated with the suspect and not the decoy.

As the suspect is choosing to initiate a conversation like this, knowing that it is a crime, the decoy is not injuring the suspect in anyway he would not have done had the suspect been talking to an actual 13 year old child. Additionally there are probably months of planning behind the scenes with the police, prosecutors, and lawyers from all involved parties to make sure that the operation is done legally. Additionally, in some of Hansen's work, he and his team were deputized by the county sheriff to comply with state laws for the duration of the operation. One does not have the right to sue someone because they provided evidence to the police of crimes that you were found guilty of. The people Hansen works with do this as volunteer work, investing their own blood, sweat, and treasure into this work and they do it with or without Hansen's cameras rolling. Hansen is a journalist and his job is to report on newsworthy events, such as the work of volunteers who work to take dangerous sexual criminals down for no rewards as well as to inform the public what these criminals actually think. He has done other investigative journalistic stories in his career, but "To Catch a Predator" and "Hansen vs. Predator" are his most popular and best known stories. The "To Catch a Predator" series can be found uploaded by various people who do not own any IP rights on youtube, and Hansen does not own the rights to those stories nor does he work for NBC News, the current owner.

Finally, Hansen does not make the arrests (he concludes his interviews before the police affect the arrest), even on the occasions where he is deputized. Even if he did, arrest authority is not an exclusive power of the police in the U.S. and Citizens Arrest is a lawful form of arrest so long as the minimum amount of force to detain the suspect is used and the citizen turn over the aressted suspect to lawful authority as soon as possible (it's still best left to the professionals). That said, Hansen is not affecting any of the arrests, though we all know what happens when he ends the interview.

If Hansen would be guilty of the crime you ask about, this would also include many an informant who work with the cops to get other criminals they are close to arrested and convicted. Keep in mind that the suspects that appear on the show have already committed a crime by the mere act of having a sexually charged conversation over the internet with someone they know or should reasonable believe are underaged. Showing up at the house is, for the prosecution, icing on the cake at this point, the transcripts alone are enough to convict.

5
  • So the answer is "no" because it is not Chris Hansen who pretends to be a 13 years old girl, but it's another person who does it, and this other person is a volunteer, so he/she doesn't take money from Hansen's show? But this other person is still benefiting from this activity, e.g. by the additional publicity/advertisement that Chris Hansen brings to the volunteer organization. This partnership looks like a way to circumvent the law. Jan 26, 2023 at 12:14
  • 3
    @robertspierre: The law you cite simply does not apply. It's not a crime to do what has been done, because nobody is enticing anyone to act in a criminal way. It is not a crime to lie about one's age outside of sworn statements. It's not a crime to be targeted by a sexual predator because of the way you present yourself. It is not a crime to report a crime to police and/or media. It is not a crime to work with police and/or news media to bring attention to criminal activities in one's community to the public attention. The only criminals are the ones who want to have sex with children
    – hszmv
    Jan 26, 2023 at 12:28
  • He is not lying about his age like a 50 years old that says he is 19 to feel younger. He is pretending to be someone he is not, which include another age, but also include another name, another surname, substituting his real face with another face taken from the internet, another job (i.e. being still in school), etc. Jan 26, 2023 at 20:59
  • 2
    @robertspierre In State v. Smith (1984), the Connecticut supreme court ruled that merely providing a false name is not sufficient to rise to the crime of impersonation. The state must show evidence that the person impersonated is a real person. There are computer programs that can generate realistic human faces that are not based on anyone. Even so, the face and a false name would not work as again, no real person who looks like that face exists. I'm not aware of decoys using surnames, but again, the "must show a real person".
    – hszmv
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:51
  • @robertspierre In addition, Hansen would have no doubt been coordinating with police for some time prior to the sting operation, which could easily give him cover under the exception for Law Enforcement Officers, as he was coordinating the sting with them. He didn't just call them up the night before and say "Hey, I'm going to be in town getting peados to come to my house thinking they're gonna have a good time with a 13 year old. Wanna make some arrests?"
    – hszmv
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .